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50 Shades of Flexibility: Planning for training and conference room spaces in the mobile age

by Lisa Mulcahy

The Kinetic Desk from STIR has a digital adjustment tool.

Undoubtedly, technology and the Internet have made the world smaller, but technology has also tightened the reins on training and conference real estate. Lecture halls, boardrooms and training rooms are becoming decidedly smaller, but their reach and purpose are expanding beyond traditional borders.

“The way space is orchestrated is blurring the formal idea of training rooms,” says Steve Cohen, corporate VP of sales and marketing, Falcon Products. “Rooms are getting smaller versus larger. There’s a focus on relationship building and collaboration.” Access to technology is the backbone of these collaborative spaces, but that doesn’t necessarily mean hard-wiring anymore. It’s a given that most organizations are operating a wireless network. While this has dramatically freed facilities managers from the wires that bound them, it also creates the challenge of how to manage multiple training rooms and people that are constantly in motion.

Where can I charge this?

The Tier training room seating from Versteel.

Power will always be at the forefront, the more outlets the better. People are coming into conference rooms with multiple devices that will most likely need a power boost during the day. Smart phones, tablets, laptops and a/v equipment all hold court during training sessions and FMs should be mindful of how these devices will be charged, docked and stored. As for powering up worksurfaces, there’s a demand for simple daisy chain connection, which allows for easy reconfiguration.

Often there’s not a facilities or building services person on site to set up a space. It could be a small-frame, 95-pound person that has to rearrange the furniture to accommodate their needs. “Everything has to be easy to engage with and durable,” explains Katie Titi, Facilities Team Lead, Raytheon. “From a facilities standpoint, we don’t want a lot of parts and pieces to manage. FMs usually have a lot of different balls to juggle; trackability is a key concern.”

Post configuration blueprints

When considering a product line to furnish a training space that will ebb and flow, Pam Mathias, VP of sales, Versteel suggests, “asking manufacturers for sample footprints that show a variety of configurations and how many people each one will accommodate.” These “blueprints” can be copied and posted in each room as a reference for the employees that will be using them.

TGS Menlo Lecture seating from Falcon

Another major shift in flexibility is reexamining the traditional tiered lecture hall design. With adjustable height tables such as Versteel’s Tier, the same functional and aesthetic goals can be achieved without the architectural build out. One caveat, also plan for seating that will work in concert with the various table heights.

“I would love to see more integration of tables and seating as a complete system,” expresses Debra Barresse, interiors project manager, Princeton University. “In the planning process it’s important to make sure both pieces come together in a way that’s going to provide optimum capacity, as well as comfort.” Every table and chair is designed with various leg widths. If you have a table that’s supposed to accommodate three people, but three chairs don’t fit in between the legs, that’s a big problem. Raytheon’s Titi also recommends taking a close look at finishes. “If products are being purchased from multiple manufacturers the finishes might not match up. You don’t want the space to look like it was assembled piece-meal.”

Work this way

Bluescape from Haworth

Comfort is always king and has a direct correlation to productivity. “We’re seeing a surge in the Panera/Starbucks model,” says Becky Schneider, marketing director, Versteel. “Stop by any Starbucks and you’ll see the method at work. Small clusters of comfortable seating, people plugged into technology and ideas in motion.” Designed to appeal to the millennial market and a workforce that doesn’t always work in the office, this is how employees are choosing to work and how organizations are recruiting.  As for individual conference rooms, comfort also comes in the form of control. Being able to control environmental factors such as lighting and temperature with a mobile device is becoming more mainstream.

Soft seating and lounge collections are playing a much larger role as well, especially in areas adjacent to conference rooms or classrooms. Collaboration and brainstorming doesn’t stop at the door, often it continues before and after the designated meeting time. “Comfortable gathering spaces just outside of classrooms are becoming more prevalent,” says Barresse. “In these informal spaces students are actively exchanging ideas and using mobile devices to illustrate their thoughts.”

Pirouette Table from KI is rectangle-shaped and can be nested and grouped.

While there will always be a need for some type of common area to convene, design forces are at work creating “points of positive collision,” explains Cohen. These are the impromptu water cooler moments that can happen near stairwells, elevator banks, corridor intersections, etc. And just like atoms that seem to spontaneously bond, people will cluster and collaborate if pointed in the right direction.